These days, nearly exclusively, when someone brings up survivalist communications, the default always resigns to some sort of chinese dual bander with the added justification “because its cheap!” Nevermind the fact that the build quality is not the best and the thing might fail the person using it sooner rather than later, they keep being bought because the personality cults of the Internet tell them to…only because they’re cheap. But if you thought critically, all those folks having the ability to listen to hi band VHF and UHF might be a bad thing- especially if you’re looking for any sort of security.
Your area may be different, but around here there’s next to no activity on some of the other bands…you know, the ones Baofeng doesn’t make a radio for. Especially interesting for Survivalists is the capability the 6M band offers- with little to no overall traffic, great capability in rural terrain and many older repeaters sitting idle, 6M really needs more consideration for those actually concerned with creating a capable net versus those just cosplaying. Also nicknamed the “magic band” for it’s unpredictable long range qualities especially on SSB, 6m is just below the FM radio broadcast band (88-108mc) and the VHF television broadcast band (54-88mc); 6m occupies 50-54mc, with 51-54mc supporting FM mode. The band’s properties make it a very good performer in the hills with simplex use, and with repeaters can cover a broad area networking Survivalists spread near and far. The best part? Little traffic and well built equipment.
Here in central NC, many of the 6m machines were built by the same great group of folks, mostly retired engineers, and emergency communications was a significant
focus when the systems were designed. Favoring converted GE Mastr II and other converted commercial mobiles, these have been hardened and are designed to function when everything else fails. Although our 2m and some 70cm machines are similarly constructed, those operators on 6m are likely to be more proficient and not of the Baofeng-bandit category. Making it work in the field with simplex and not relying on repeaters, 6m has lots of options for those looking to embrace it. The old Cherokee AH-50 handhelds are a great find for those browsing local hamfest fleamarkets, as are the excellent Yaesu VX-5R and 7R, the later being a strong candidate for the most versatile and durable Survivalist radio ever made. All of these sets mentioned are incredibly well built and durable units; for those more serious about having great capability for years to come, these are excellent choices. Since they’re usually much higher priced, even a decade old, than their chinese imitations, many dabblers get scared away in lieu of the material satisfaction of buying junk…er, inexpensive stuff. Mobile and base options are plentiful but curiously underutilized; three of the most popular Survivalist radios, the Yaesu 817, its bigger brother the 857d and the old workhorse the Icom 706,
each include all-mode 6m support providing a built-in capability for an excellent all-mode 6m station. Keep in mind that every operating option you have on HF, be it CW, Phone or Digital, you can do on 6m base to base.
Working the “magic band” is not without its issues however- there are drawbacks despite all the positives. For one, efficient antennas are large. Carrying a much higher signature than their hi band VHF or UHF counterparts, the antennas can be more visible to onlookers or get snagged up while moving through the bush due to size. Compact antennas can be found for the handhelds while moving or working, but are severely limited in the efficiency department. Not to say they don’t perform, they simply are a compromise between size and efficiency that some brands accomplish better than others. In certain situations this is not a bad thing. Another drawback is the positioning of the band itself. 50-54mc sits right within the military ground VHF band, as any user of the PRC-77 to SINCGARS can attest, and may be prone to interference from those users. Good gear and experience can both mitigate and turn this into an asset.
Although looked upon as a fun band by experimenters, 6m signals sometimes, especially in summer mornings, can be heard at incredibly long distances due to sporadic-E propagation, tropo scatter and meteor scatter reflection. This might get confusing especially if you’re hearing stations from several states away randomly, even on FM. Because there aren’t that many users, often people will lose interest unless there’s an active net, and encouraging activity locally can be tough. It’s also tough to convince newer operators to jump on board with new equipment, especially if they took the advice of a few and bought a boatload of cheap 2m/70cm handhelds simply because…they were cheap. But that being said some of the radios previously mentioned are not going to break the bank used, quality gear is worth paying for, and great deals can be found for those actively looking.
Despite a few minor drawbacks, 6m presents an option off the beaten path for the Survivalist group looking for something different; it’s cool to do something others ain’t. While low-band VHF might not solve all your issues, it’s versatility definitely goes a long way. Anyone in your group can take advantage of it with only a Technician license and it doesn’t parallel any of the license-free paths others are likely to be trafficking along. Between much better quality equipment and better operators on the band itself with limited users and great rural coverage, it might just be a Survivalist’s “magic” option.
If you’d like to learn more about this and a whole host of other communications topics, consider coming out for the RTO Course, where we learn about not just radio theory in a field environment but how to build our own networks out of all sorts of improvised materials. Read some of the reviews and feel free to contact me direct at firstname.lastname@example.org.